|Lessons from North Korea for Middle East |
Aijaz Zaka Syed | Arab News
Our world would be so dull without its delicious ironies and ever fascinating double standards. Who could have ever thought that having condemned North Korea as part of the "Axis of evil" — the other two being Iran and Iraq of course — in September 2001, Bush would rush his top diplomats to welcome "Dear Leader" Kim Jong-il to the fold of civilized world.
But then, as they say, there are no permanent friends and enemies in the world of international relations.
And it seems only an Asian dictator whose mere mention was enough to send Bush flying off the handle could save the lame duck president, desperate to rescue his legacy in his last few months in White House.
Yet not long ago - in fact until last week - Dear Leader's North Korea was right on the top of the US list of "states sponsoring terror". Bush personally ridiculed North Korean's diminutive president with a Himalayan ego as a pygmy. And this administration scrapped all past treaties and agreements with the North Korean regime. And Dear Leader Kim was the Public Enemy No. 1, little different from Osama Bin Laden.
So what is it that Comrade Kim has accomplished overnight to be dropped from the US hit list and join the "civilized world"?
The US has already lifted all curbs on North Korea - punitive sanctions that drove its impoverished people to great suffering and misery while sparing the regime. And now Washington is rushing the much needed financial and food aid to the Asian country as part of the deal with the regime.
So what is it that Dear Leader has offered Washington to justify this remarkable turnaround? Very little, actually!
Although Pyongyang blew up the cooling tower of a defunct nuclear plant with great fanfare in full view of the Western television cameras and a breathless Christiana Amanpour of CNN offering live commentary, the wily North Korean leader has given away little in return while getting all those concessions and huge financial aid from the US.
The IAEA, the UN nuclear watchdog that has been breathing down Iran's neck all this while, gets no access to Kim's nuclear stockpile or its top secret file on weapons program. Unlike in Iran, IAEA cannot go "anywhere, see anything" in North Korea.
Also, the good old Dear Leader would not part with his long-range ballistic missile system, Taepodong 2, that can deliver nukes at distant targets.
So what is it that the Bush administration has achieved by bringing Comrade Kim in from the cold? Little, indeed.
In fact, even the staunchest neocon supporters of Bush see the North Korean deal as the second biggest foreign policy disaster after Iraq. John Bolton, that big mustachioed US envoy to the UN until recently, sees the deal as a "clear victory" for North Korea. "It's the final collapse of Bush's foreign policy," says Bolton.
So what is it that persuaded the Bushies to embrace Comrade Kim? Has he suddenly given up his unflinching faith in his own leadership and the totalitarian socialism to embrace the good, old Western capitalism?
Fortunately or unfortunately, the answer is in the negative. All Dear Leader Kim has done to impress this administration is produce a neat pile of nukes.
It seems even as the coalition of the willing was busy looking for Saddam Hussein's much-feared weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the North Koreans were building their own.
So with his Taeopodong ICBM system and a dozen nuclear warheads, Comrade Kim can now take out 10 Western capitals or America's allies in the neighborhood before you could say Texas Ranger. This is what seems to have convinced the Bush administration and its more sensible allies in South Korea and Japan that Comrade Kim was no Saddam Hussein to be messed around with. And that it was infinitely better to urgently bring Kim on board with lollipops and planeloads of goodies.
So it was not North Korea's scrapping of its nuclear program - as our own Col. Gaddafi so wisely did by turning over his worthless rusting junk as WMD program - but the threat to make use of their nukes that brought the administration off its high horse.
Which reminds me of Saddam Hussein's Iraq. The Arab country would have been embraced and rewarded too by the US and the West, if only Saddam really had all those nukes and other weapons of mass destruction that he so often pretended to have.
Iraq wouldn't be in the mess that it finds itself in today with more than a million of its people killed and the entire country ruined beyond recognition, if only it had a couple of real nukes to impress the State Department mandarins.
If instead of endlessly plotting against his neighbors and his own people all the time, Saddam had invested his energy and resources in building real and credible defense to protect his country and people, the coalition of the willing wouldn't be sitting in Baghdad presiding over its immense wealth.
Again, if the US neocons and our ever obliging Israeli friends are promising to visit the fate of the late Iraqi dictator on Iran's Ayatollahs it is because they know that the Islamic republic does NOT have and is NOT building any nuclear weapons.
They know that notwithstanding Ahmadinejad's bluff and bluster and his increasingly juvenile rhetoric, Tehran is years away from building nukes. That is, if it is REALLY building nukes!
But after the way Iraq and North Korea have been blessed with sticks and carrots respectively, can you blame Iran if it indeed goes after those nukes?
As Murdoch's Wall Street Journal, a staunch supporter of Bush's wars, put it: "Most troubling is the message all of this sends to Iran, or other rogue states. The lesson is that when you build a weapon, your political leverage increases. Play enough brinkmanship, and you can even receive diplomatic absolution without admitting to having the kind of nuclear device you exploded less than two years earlier."
Another neocon commentator Claudia Rosett has this to say: "The lesson to date is that America, faced with nuclear blackmail, will bow down, dignify and fortify tyrants, fork over look, and celebrate the process as a victory for diplomacy."
So all it takes Iran, or any other aspiring nuclear power in the Middle East for that matter, is to put together five to six nukes, and join the "civilized world". Let IAEA inspectors go take a hike. And let's bury with utmost reverence that hallowed accord called Non-Proliferation Treaty.
— Aijaz Zaka Syed is a Dubai-based journalist and commentator. Write to him at email@example.com